Koraput, Odisha: Mali Parbat Suraksha Samiti meeting report – Fifteen year long struggle against Hindalco

January 21, 2017

The Deomali mountain is located in Simligudha Tehsil, Koraput district of Orissa. It not only provides local tribals with river water, potions, herbs, and roots; it is also intimately intertwined with their beliefs. They believe that the mountain is the abode of gods. Deomali has rich resources of bauxite. The Birla Group of Companies brought in a bauxite mining project here in 2003.

Under the banner of the Mali Parbat Suraksha Samiti, the local tribals have been resisting Hindalco (Birla) group since 2003. Locals believe that bauxite mining will destroy the mountain, and with it, their water, vegetables, and agricultural practices will all perish.

Mining due to Hindalco has affected four Gram Panchayats, encompassing 42 villages, in Simligudha. Bauxite extracted from Mali mountain was to go to the company’s plant in Sambalpur and Roorkee. When Hindalco started constructing the road for mining in 2007, the local tribals began to resist. The company promised employment for 105 local youths.

 

 

In 2014, the company goons and police attacked the tribals. Facing resistance, mining operations stopped around that time. Since then, Hindalco’s activities in the area have ceased completely and a strong resistance has developed on the ground. Adivasis are adamant that they will not allow mining in the mountain under any circumstances.

Adivasis have been arranging an annual gathering for environmental protection here, and in this gathering, local struggles, big and small, come together to unitedly reaffirm their commitment to the environment and the protection of Mali mountain.

On January 18 2017, a huge meeting was organized here under the banner of the Mali Parbat Suraksha Samiti. Over 4,000 adivasis participated in the rally. Activists from different parts of the country came to the public meeting, which was chaired by the veteran Gandhian activist Dr. G G Parikh.

At the public meeting, local activists described the current situation of the movement and spoke of future strategies. Niranjan, of the Mali Parbat Suraksha Samiti, said that mining destroys local water and cultivation practices. Resistance has been going on since 2003, and during the conflict, many activists have faced the wrath of the police, administration, and company goons. Many have been implicated in false cases. However, the Samiti is resolute that mining will not start.

Sadanand Pujari of the Samiti said that Hindalco’s mining activities have affected adivasis of 42 villages here. Demonstrations have been held at the offices of the collector several times, and petitions to stop the mining have been handed over. In 2014, following an attack by goons of the company, mining has stopped completely in the face of local resistance.

The secretary of the Samiti described in detail the events of January 8 2014. Around 500 adivasis stopped 50-60 cars carrying bauxite. On January 9 2014, the Tehsildar asked the people to release the cars, which they refused to do. That night, company goons beat up five local youths. This caused a massive protest of around 10,000 people the following day, and the cars were destroyed.

Hindalco’s manager and workers fled the area. Since then, the mining operations have stopped. Hundreds of people involved in the demonstrations of January 10 have been slapped with bogus cases. 14 youths were accused of being Maoists, and the police registered cases against them.

The Samiti has now extended the scope of the struggle. On August 3, 2016, a bandh was called in Koraput to protest against the fake encounter of 5 adivasis. Alongside the issue of mining and fake cases, the Samiti is also trying to develop struggles around questions of health, education, rural employment, etc.

Dr. G G Parikh stressed the point that the struggle in Koraput was not just a struggle over the Mali mountain, but was emblematic of conflicts going on all over the country. The struggle is for a new idea, a new vision, which will guide the fight against injustice and oppression throughout the country. It is therefore the duty of the Mali Parbat Suraksha Samiti to extend solidarity to other struggles.

Prafulla Samantara of Lokshakti Abhiyan made the point that the Indian State is now fully working under the orders of corporations and infringing on the rights of adivasis. He also stressed that it is time to unite our struggles and organize together, praising the great determination with which the Mali Parbat Samiti has withstood the government.

Lingaraj Pradhan, of the Western Odisha Krishak Sangathan said that every corner of Odisha is filled with immense wealth. The mineral wealth under the mountains attracts corporations which come in and displace adivasis. But adivasis are resisting with success now. The Dongria Kondhs of Niyamgiri, who do not even speak the Oriya lanugage, are resisting a giant corporation like Vedanta, through the sheer strength of their will and unity.

Like in Niyamgiri, adivasis in other parts of Orissa are also fighting for their forest, land and livelihood. The resistance for Mali Parbat is a heroic struggle that will last a long time.

Lingaraj Azad of the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, giving the example of Niyamgiri, said that just as the adivasis of Niyamgiri resisted Vedanta, every adivasi community of Odisha must also protect their forest and land. He stressed the need to unite different ongoing struggles.

The Gandhian leader Manju Mohan said that the role of women in the resistance was especially exemplary, since they have succeeded in fighting for their rights along with their housework.

Former Lok Sabha MP Braja Kishore Tripathy made the point that the current government is completely sold on corporate interests, displacing adivasis from their land at their behest. But the adivasis are fighting back against this oppression.

The meeting was compered by the youth leader of the Mali Parbat Samiti, Sadanand Pujari. A cultural dance program was peformed by local youths.